Questions, questions…

Question mark in Esbjerg

Question mark in Esbjerg by alexanderdrachmann, on Flickr

 I’m always in need of quick, easy and student-centred activities. A few minutes saved lesson planning can be converted into MA study time, or just time to attend to one of the millions of other little tasks that I never seem to have time to do these days. Thus I was really happy to find a very quick and easy speaking activity (Be someone else) in an old post on Ken Wilson’s excellent blog, which I have built up into a couple of lessons so far.

The idea is very simple. Call someone brave and outgoing to the front of the class, ask them their name, where they are from, where they live and what they do. Then send that ‘self’ out of the classroom (with exaggerated kicking/pushing/scruffing gestures if necessary) and ask the same four questions, to which the volunteer replies as a new ‘self’ which they create. Then invite questions for the new self to the class. To give this activity a goal, I looked at question structures and presenting them in the QASI format and its variations, as I had been reminded of this recently by Maria Pinto’s presentation at the KOTESOL conference.

I started the class by demonstrating the activity with my co-teacher so students could see the activity done by two good English speakers. After the initial questions, it’s probably best to throw in a couple of slightly inappropriate questions like “How old are you?” and “Do you have a boyfriend?” early on, to show the class that this is a safe situation where anything goes (this also piques their interests much more). After that, I threw the floor open to the students for their questions. After a few questions the teacher nominated a “friend” to join her at the front. Again, the initial questions are asked, the ‘real self’ removed and the new self created. The students can then ask questions to the new arrival, but also to the original person. As a teacher, I found it useful to try to ask questions about the relationship between the two parties as this gave them both the chance to speak ,and this was then picked up by the students who continued this line of questioning.

Throughout the activity I was writing student questions up on the board, with the words separated into columns. On one side we had present simple “be” questions, on the other present/past simple questions with the auxiliary verb “do/did”. Anything more complex was written up separately. The columns were not labelled, but corresponded to the QASI (Question word, Auxiliary, Subject, Infinitive) method of presenting grammar, in order to help students recognise the patterns.

There are several things that I love about this lesson. One is the amount of creativity it allows students to show. In one lesson we had a character from Twilight being interviewed alongside a trot superstar and a sports announcer. I also like the fact that every question apart from the initial four are referential questions, to which the asker does not know the answer, and so the activity is genuinely communicative and sparks interest than interviews with ‘real’ students. Questions can be recycled with each new participant in the conversation, so I found that students with lower levels would tend to practice asking those, while better students attempted to formulate new questions, aided by the structured questions on the board. Also, with different ‘selves’ I found that students were much happier to interact with those who they would not normally interact with – especially boys with girls.

I had hoped to look at some of the grammar of the questions explicitly, but the activity went so well that our 45 minutes was up long before we’d finished asking questions, let alone got to the grammar. In order to recycle the questions for the following week, I took some pictures of the board. I’ll write up the next part of this lesson in a few days time.

Until then,



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